Hickory Ridge village manager retiring after three decades

Jane Parrish arrived in what was then one of Columbia's smaller villages, the Hickory Ridge of 1980, so early in its development that it didn't yet have its own community center. Its office was farther north on Cedar Lane in the village of Harper's Choice, within Swansfield's neighborhood center.

Parrish will step out of her office — the village long since opened one in Hawthorn — when she retires in October. In her more than 31 years, she's seen Hickory Ridge open a village center and undergo a boom in development that made it one of Columbia's largest villages.

"I learned as it grew," Parrish said.

She had to. Parrish came into the job with little management experience. She'd done meter readings for a photocopy company, been a short-order cook and operated a switchboard at a hotel. Since moving to Columbia from Mississippi in 1975 she'd been the PTA president at Talbott Springs Elementary School and was also a substitute teacher.

Miles Coffman, chairman of the Hickory Ridge village board, said that what truly readied Parrish was a job she had in Jackson, Miss., working on a local production of "Romper Room," a television show in which a teacher guided small children through fun and educational activities.

"That prepared her well for dealing with the board and the citizens of the village," Coffman said.

Joking aside, Coffman and other village board members say that Parrish has been an indispensable institution, bringing her breadth of knowledge and a healthy, positive attitude to the village and its residents.

"You just can't replace the memory and the history that she has," Coffman said.

"The other thing is," he added, "I've never spoken with someone who's met with Jane about an issue and not come away satisfied that she took care of it."

Others agreed. "Very rarely do I ever get a phone call from a citizen concerned about something, because Jane takes care of it," said board member John Bailey. "I've never been able to call her with a question and stump her. She always has an answer no matter what."

Asked why she is retiring, Parrish had an answer for that, too.

"Well, I've reached retirement age," the 65-year-old Owen Brown resident said simply. "I'm really looking forward to being able to be more spontaneous without a strict schedule. I have so many retired friends, and they're doing so many interesting things, and I want to play, too."

She is looking forward to visiting family in Ohio and North Carolina, joining friends around the country, or even exploring activities in the Baltimore-Washington area. "I didn't want to do it on the weekends when the throngs are there," she said. "And during the week I have to work."

The new village manager will be Jessamine Duvall, a 37-year-old Ellicott City resident who worked as a program coordinator and assistant administrator for the village of Long Reach from 2000 to 2003 and as a facility coordinator for the village of River Hill from 2008 to 2009, according to her profile on a networking website.

"I know it's going to be hard to fill Jane's shoes because she's been there for 31 years, but I've met the board and think they're going to be easy to work with," Duvall said.

"One of the goals that the board and I both have is to have a stronger social media and online presence," she said. "But beyond that I'm going to sort of sit back and take everything in for a while before I make any major changes."

Duvall could start as soon as later this month.

"We don't expect another Jane Parrish to step into Jane's shoes," board member Tom Louden said, prior to Duvall being named village manager. "We expect another person to do a very good job, hopefully as admirable a job as Jane has done over these many years."

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